Sunday, April 19, 2015

Thoughts On The Randal Rauser/Justin Schieber Debate



So the debate between Randal Rauser and Justin Schieber from last month is online and having just watched it I thought I'd weigh in. Randal Rauser is a trained theologian and Christian apologist. What I like about him is that he isn't just another William Lane Craig clone, of which there are far too many. He makes his own arguments for god his own way and I always want to see the real reasons why theists believe what they do. Here, Randal offers a few of the arguments that help convince him god is real. I'll offer some thoughts on why I don't find them convincing.

First, Randal defines god as a "necessarily existent, non-physical agent, who is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good." This is the basic god of classical theism which I think was a good idea for Randal to define upfront so there's no confusion. The only problem I have of course is the "necessarily existent" part. I know that many classical theists view god as necessarily existent, but there is often an attempt to define god into existence this way that I think is little more than wordplay. Thankfully, Randal does not try to make that argument for god in this debate.

Randal outlines his three main arguments:

  1. Rational belief in god doesn't require evidence
  2. God is a legitimate philosophical explanation
  3. God best accounts for the cognitive faculty of moral intuition

Let's go over them one by one.

1. Rational belief in god doesn't require evidence


Randal first defends the idea that rational belief in god doesn't require evidence. He tries to argue that it is properly basic, much like the belief in an external world. "One need not have evidence for god to believe rationally that god exists," Randal declares. He later says, "Belief in god can be produced in conditions which qualify it as properly basic." He tells the story about a non-religious Canadian rock musician who walked into a church in New York one day and was "struck by overwhelming spiritual presence." But so what? As Randal himself observes, "Millions of people have formed belief about god with the same naturalness and immediacy, the same phenomenology of self-presentation that [the Canadian rock musician] experienced." In other words, millions of people have formed belief in other gods as well as non-gods as a result of spiritual experience. There is no special power Christianity has in the spiritual domain. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fareed Zakaria: Criticizing Islam Will Not Change It


It seems that almost every week on Real Time with Bill Maher the topic of Islam comes up and its relationship with violent terrorism. Last week Fareed Zakaria was on and criticized Maher's attitude towards Islam when they were talking about the recent conviction of the Boston Bomber.

“My problem with the way you approach it,” Zakaria said, “is I don’t think you’re going to reform a religion by telling 1.6 billion people — most of whom are just devout people who get some inspiration from that religion and go about their daily lives — I don’t think you’re going to change religion by saying your religion is the motherlode of bad ideas, it’s a terrible thing, you know. Shape it up and change it. I think frankly, you’re going to make a lot of news for yourself and you’re going to get a lot of applause lines and joke lines out of it. But if you really want to change those people, if you want to change that religion, then what you have to do is push for reform but also with some sense of respect for what the spiritual values that people think.”  

Salon is running a headline that Maher is a bigot and that anyone who's a fan of Maher is a bigot too. He's not. Maher is simply acknowledging the facts. He's not selling "blanket intolerance." But he's not going to issue blanket tolerance either. The problem is that the "spiritual values" that a large number of Muslims think are not quite so pretty, and it is not bigoted to point this out anymore than it is to point out the nasty beliefs that many other ideologies have. Sure, hundreds of millions of Muslims are hard working people who get spiritual strength from their religion, and who are peaceful people. We all know that. But why should I have to pretend that Islam is peaceful religion, with a peaceful philosophy, in order to reform it? Maher, Zakaria, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and I, along with millions of moderate Muslims, all want Islam to reform. Some of us, like Maher, Ayaan, and I, don't want to have to lie to achieve a strategic goal. We don't want to have to act like politicians. We want to be honest.

I'm not even sure that pretending Islam is a religion of peace in order to reform it is the best strategy to reform Islam. Maybe it is. Maybe harsh criticism of Islam is. I don't know. At least some people leave Islam when they see harsh criticism of it. The problem with a large part of the Islamic world is that there is little tolerance for free speech that criticizes Islam, and religious indoctrination is rampant. Perhaps a little criticism will do some help. I honestly think both strategies should be employed. You can have your firebrands and your accommodationists each doing their part, each making the case in their own way, that religions need to live exclusively in the twenty-first century.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Alan Watts On Ontology




Alan Watts, a favorite philosopher of mine, had a very interesting spiritual way of looking at the universe, that as far as I can tell, can be perfectly compatible with naturalism.

Watts rejected what he called the "two models." One is what he called the ceramic model, and the other is what he called the fully automatic model. The ceramic model of the world is the traditional theistic view that the world was something created by god, just as a potter creates a pot, and a carpenter creates a table. It is the idea that the world is made as an artifact through some sort of an act of supernatural will. And this creator god is the ruler of this universe and resides as a king. The fully automatic model, is the traditional atheistic or naturalistic view of the world where the universe exists almost as some kind of blind, unintelligent machine, and that humans are just a chance fluke in its history.

Watts didn't think either two models made sense. So instead, he held to a view that the universe was something musical. The universe was a symphony, it was a piece of music. And just like how when making music, the goal isn't to get to the end of the piece as quick as possible — that would make it so that the shortest songs are the best. No. Rather the point of the music is the music itself. It isn't necessarily going anywhere. The unfolding of the universe is the purpose, beauty, and audacity of this symphony.

This is a very interesting view of the world, and one that at first I found hard to imagine. I've recently been thinking about it again and am willing to consider it plausible. There is nothing I see completely absurd about the idea of the universe as a piece of music, so long as one doesn't imagine a musician playing it, like it was the musical piece of some deity. I'm not sure if Watts saw this idea of a musical universe as a metaphor or something literal. If only seen as a metaphor it can be construed with naturalism. And although I'm still a metaphysical naturalist in the traditional sense of the term, this idea that the universe is naturally musical, I don't suddenly object to. Watts called this the organic model.

What To Make Of The Evidence For An Afterlife?



What are we to make of the evidence for an afterlife? Here are your options.

There is either:

  • Some ill-defined metaphysical substance, not subject to the known laws of physics, that interacts with the atoms of our brains in ways that have thus far eluded every controlled experiment ever performed in the history of science

or 

  • People hallucinate when they are nearly dead

Which option do you think makes the most sense?

The United States Was Not Founded On Judeo-Christian Principles And Here's Why


From the Freedom From Religion Foundation:

"The principles behind Judeo-Christianity are fundamentally in conflict with the principles that the Declaration of Independence lays out."




Romans 13:1-7 says:

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.

Does this sound compatible with the Declaration of Independence? And also, how dare some on the Christian Right be for no taxation. It is a Christian duty to obey the government and pay taxes.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ayn Rand's Objectivism and Libertarianism


I've had several close encounters with libertarians recently and I have to be honest with you, many of them piss me off as much as, if not more, than religious fundamentalists. There is a fairly popular libertarian niche today that is quite outspoken and very ideologically driven, and it seems to have a lot of young people in their ranks. There are also quite a few atheists who are libertarians and I've been noticing them as I go out into my local atheist/philosophical meetups.


Although I am sympathetic to some of the libertarian social views like marijuana and prostitution legalization, when it comes to economics and government I have some sharp disagreements with them. Many libertarians that I've spoken to either want no government at all, or government so small it can be drowned in a bathtub, to paraphrase Grover Norquist. But mostly, they want a total "free market" economy where government regulation is non-existent, and some even want the total privatization of education, law, police, and the military.

Not all libertarians hold to Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy, but many do. She's the ideological darling of many on the Right. Her fan boys include Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, who said that her books are "required reading" for his interns. The interesting thing is that Ayn Rand was an outspoken atheist, and it's odd how so many on the Right identify with her, given the Right's close associations with religion. As far as her atheism is concerned, we're on the same page. We both see religion as something irrational and not justified by any good evidence. But Rand's philosophy emphasizes a kind of ethical egoism, whereby she thought that we should never sacrifice anything important to us for the benefit of someone else who was not important to us, like a stranger who was suffering. She thought taxation was theft, but still believed in government doing the three basics: police, law, and military. (This would be financed by voluntary donations according to her.) All the money you make would be yours to keep and there's no concern for any kind of "greater good." Rand's philosophy is a fervent objection to utilitarianism. If fact, recently when I mentioned my concern for the "greater good" when I was debating economics with a libertarian, he literally walked out on me.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Some Religious Believers Are Scared For Their Religious Freedom


Many religious conservatives in the US are publicly afraid of the loss of their religious liberty. They see the possibility of their religious identity and expression truly becoming illegal and extinct. These concerns are echoed widely among prominent members of the religious right. Conservative pastor Rick Warren said religious liberty is the civil rights issue of our day, 2016 presidential hopeful Ted Cruz thinks the government is waging an "assault" on religious liberty, and Louisiana governor and Christian convert Bobby Jindal says religious liberty is at stake due to increasing secularism.

There is no doubt about it. The US is becoming more secular and less religious. As it has been widely reported, the recent 2014 GSS survey shows that 21% of Americans claim no religious affiliation and are categorized as the "nones". As many as 7.5 million people may have left religion just since 2012. This is an increase of the nones of about 2 percent since 2012. Many religious conservatives are disturbed by these trends and scared that this increasing secularization is fueling a hostile attitude towards religious expression and some actually fear the government is attempting to make religious expression, or being religious, illegal.

Is there any truth to their claims? What would I do if I were in control of the law?

First, for far too long the religious zealots have been violating the separation of church and state, by enacting laws that teach creationism in schools, preaching politics from the pulpit while remaining tax exempt, displaying the 10 commandments on government property, trying to enforce religious morality onto non-believers, and many, many others. When these violations get challenged, religionists often react as if their religious liberty is being infringed. But right-wing paranoia is almost always fueled by ignorance and rarely turns out to have a strong factual basis. There are no attempts by the government to make religious expression illegal. There are attempts to make sure the the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment is respected. Secularists like myself do not want to take anyone's religious freedom away, we want to make sure it stays out of government - where it doesn't belong, and we don't want people to be able to use "religious liberty" as an excuse to discriminate.

To be a true secularists who holds to the basic separation of church and state principle means that you do not suppress the free expression of religious beliefs. But, if those religious beliefs violate basic civil rights of equality, then in my opinion, civil rights trump religious expression. That means you should not be allowed to discriminate against someone's race, religion - or lack thereof, gender, national origin, or sexual orientation on grounds that your religion requires you to do so in all government facilities and institutions, as well as in private businesses that cater to the general public. When the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, it outlawed racial discrimination in "public accommodations" like hotels, motels, restaurants, and theaters. Many segregationists strongly objected to the idea of government forcing private business owners to serve black people equally. But if this stipulation was not there, most of the white-owned private businesses in the South would have continued their discrimination against black people, and in effect, we would have still had segregation, perhaps even to this day. I see the discrimination perpetrated in the name of religion the same way.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Learn Philosophy


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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Does The Fine Tuning Argument Make God Responsible For Natural Evil?


I just had a idea. I was thinking about the fine tuning argument which tends to be fairly popular among internet apologists and whether or not that causes problems for the problem of suffering. Natural evil is an evil for which "no non-divine agent can be held morally responsible for its occurrence." Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, droughts, meteor impacts, and diseases that cause sentient beings to suffer or die and for which no human being is responsible are examples of natural evil.

Classical theists have acknowledged that the problem of natural evil is a big one, and have tried to come up with many solutions, or theodocies, in trying to explain why an infinitely good deity would allow them. But the question I want to ask here, is whether god merely "allows" such evils or is the ultimate cause of them. Some theists maintain this claim that god allows these evils, but doesn't cause them. And some theists for example, claim that god has nothing to do with natural evil, and that they are caused by agents other than god, like demons.

I think there is a possible contradiction between theists who take these views on natural evil, and who hold to the fine tuning argument. Basically, if god fine tuned the universe, how is he not also responsible for all the natural evil in it? In other words, how is this:


A1. The fine tuning of the universe is either due to physical necessity, chance or design.
A2. Fine tuning is not due to either physical necessity or chance.
A3. Therefore, it is due to design.

Compatible with this, such that god isn't responsible for natural evil?:

B1. God (an omnipotent, omniscience, omni-benevolent being) exists.
B2. Natural evil exists.
B3. God is the creator and designer of the physical universe, including the laws that govern it.
B4. Natural disasters, and the evil they cause, are a direct byproduct of the laws that govern our universe.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why Thomas Paine's Common Sense Is Important: Chris Hedges & Cornel West...

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Is·lam·o·pho·bi·a — Some Thoughts


I felt like I'm long over due for a blog post about Islamophobia. It's is nooo secret on this blog that I am deeply critical of Islam. I think that Islam is the most dangerous religion in the world today and the greatest religious threat to liberalism and Western Values. This can be thought of two different ways. The first way is that I think the ideology and morality within Islam is more violent than most religions. As far as I can tell, only the Old Testament rivals the Koran in brutality. The second is that I think Muslims today are committing more violence in the name of their religion than any other religion's adherents. And I think this is due, in large part, because the principles of Islam are more violent than most other religions.

When you compare Islam and Christianity for example, when you put the two of them side by side and compare their moral values, I will be totally honest with you, I think Christianity starts looking pretty damn good compared to Islam. (And anyone who knows me or who's read this blog knows I'm not at all a Christian sympathizer). Just about everything bad that Christianity has, Islam also has, and then Islam just adds more bad shit on top of that. And it is in no way "Islamophobic" or "racist" to say say this, or point it out.

It has become a thing now to label all people critical of Islam Islamophobic, or even racist. The racist accusation is obviously nonsense. Islam is a religion and a religion is not a race. There are Muslims of every color around the world. The Islamophobic accusation though, has a racist implication to it. There is, it seems, an implicit assumption that "Islamophobic" can mean the same thing as anti-Asian, or anti-Middle Eastern, or even anti-Muslim. These are often conflated, but they are not the same.

Let's look at a few definitions of Islamophobia. Wikipedia says, "Anti-Islamic sentiment or Islamophobia is a term for prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of the religion of Islam, Muslims, or of ethnic groups perceived to be Muslim." According to UC Berkely's Center for Race & Gender, a 1991 Runnymede Trust Report defined Islamophobia as "unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims." These are two interesting definitions. Wiki's definition focuses more on the religion of Islam, and CR&G's definition focuses more on the followers of Islam. Therein lies an important distinction. Now, I'm not going to fuss over definitions here — that's not the point. The points I want to focus on regard the problems I see with the term Islamophobia and its usage.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Where Do I Put The Punctuation When Quoting?


One of the trickiest things about writing, at least in the English language, is where to put punctuation when quoting. In American English we are generally supposed to put punctuation inside of quotes, as in "this." In British English, they are generally supposed to put punctuation outside of quotes, as in "this". This makes reading awfully confusing, because you can't always tell what you're reading is British or American English in origin. And it seems as if the rules regarding punctuation can go either which way.

I will admit to having used both ways with no apparent logic behind why I do it one particular way. I generally prefer the British way when quoting and keeping the punctuation outside. But there are times when I think the American way is better. I'm no English major, or expert of any kind on the proper rules of grammar, but here's the logic of when I think the British way is better and when I think the American way is better. (And I have no idea whether this is already a thing.)

Let's take a block of text to use as our example.

For most educated, thinking people, how we go about forming beliefs may seem rather straightforward. We carefully, logically evaluate evidence for and against a particular claim, and if the evidence outweighs counterexplanations, we believe the claim to be true. If only it were that simple. Though philosophers and scientists present logical evaluation of evidence as an ideal for forming beliefs, in practice, most beliefs we hold—even those of philosophers and scientists—arise through less transparent means. (Barrett, 2004)*

With this as our subject matter, suppose I wanted to end this sentence with a quote on Barrett's subject matter and mention it was relevant to "most educated, thinking people". I would put the period on the outside of the quote because the actual quote doesn't have one and I used it to end the sentence. But now suppose in mid sentence I wanted to quote the author's thoughts on the thinking process of "most educated, thinking people," and then end my sentence. I would put the punctuation inside the quote because the original had it and the sentence needed it where it was.

Likewise, if I was ending a sentence with a quote that was from the end of a sentence, I'd put the punctuation on the inside of the quotes, as in:
Barrett thinks forming beliefs "arise through less transparent means." 
Sometimes the period can be replaced with a comma, as in:
"If only it were that simple," Barrett says. 
And also, if I was using a quote to form a sentence where I give it a question mark, as in:
Is it true that Barrett's ideas about how we form beliefs are "rather straightforward"? 
I'd put the punctuation on the outside of the quotes. To me this makes sense. And though it may seem in my writing that I'm switching between British and American grammar rules, this is the methodology that I've recently been applying.

So if a quote has the punctuation that would be the same as the sentence needs, then I keep the punctuation inside the quote. If it doesn't, then I keep the punctuation outside the quote. To me this seems logical. Any thoughts?



*Barrett, Justin L. (2004) Why Would Anyone Believe in God? Lanham: Alta Mira Press

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Hyperactive Agency Detection — A Just-So Story?


The hyperactive agency detection (HAAD), or hyperactive agent-detection device (HADD), is the most widely accepted explanation for religious belief in biology, psychology and sociology. It offers us a naturalistic explanation of the origin of beliefs which form the basis of every religion. Because of this, you can expect that many religious believers are skeptical of its claims. Some of them claim that this is a "just-so" story, part of "atheist mythology." The irony of religionists making this claim, when their religious beliefs are often backed up on the mere testimony of religious texts, which are chalk full of just-so stories, is stupendous. A just-so story is "an unverifiable and unfalsifiable narrative explanation for a cultural practice, a biological trait, or behavior of humans or other animals." Is the HADD hypothesis unverifiable and unfalsifiable? It must be both in order to meet the criterion of a just-so story. Here I want to list some of the evidence supporting the HADD hypothesis and support the view that it is a valid scientific explanation.

In their 2008 paper The evolution of superstitious and superstition-like behaviour, Harvard biologist Kevin R. Foster and Helsinki biologist Hanna Kokko test for the origin of superstitious behavors through an incorrect assignment of cause and effect, where they "conclude that behaviours which are, or appear, superstitious are an inevitable feature of adaptive behaviour in all organisms, including ourselves."

This is experimental evidence for what Michael Shermer termed patternicity, or the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise. He writes:

Unfortunately, we did not evolve a baloney-detection network in the brain to distinguish between true and false patterns. We have no error detecting governor to modulate the pattern-recognition engine. The reason has to do with the relative costs of making Type I and Type II errors in cognition, which I describe in the following formula:

P = C(TI) < C(TII) Patternicity (P) will occur whenever the cost (C) of making a Type I error (TI) is less than the cost (C) of making a Type II error (TII). 

The problem is that assessing the difference between a Type I and Type II error is highly problematic—especially in the split-second timing that often determines the difference between life and death in our ancestral environments—so the default position is to assume that all patterns are real; that is, assume that all rustles in the grass are dangerous predators and not the wind.

This is the basis for the evolution of all forms of patternicity, including superstition and magical thinking. There was a natural selection for the cognitive process of assuming that all patterns are real and that all patternicities represent real and important phenomena. We are the descendants of of the primates who most successfully employed patternicity. The Believing Brain (60)

A Type I error is a false positive, and is "believing something is real when it is not." A Type II error is a false negative, and is "believing something is not real when it is." For a short explanation of how this affected our hominid ancestors, see here.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Religion/Heroin Analogy


Some theists struggle to see how life could have any meaning without god. A godless life, they say, is devoid of any objective meaning or purpose and is pointless. But many atheists, including myself, have no problem with there being no objective meaning or purpose to life, and some of us even go a step further and say that a life in which meaning is forced onto you from the outside is downright depressing.

In order to help some theists understand my point of view, I've thought of an analogy that might help in explaining this relationship between religion and meaning.

Suppose you were raised on a steady diet of heroin every single day. It makes you feel good, it gives your life meaning and purpose, and you look forward everyday to the warmth and pleasure that it gives you. You become utterly dependent on it everyday. So are all of your friends and family members, and as far as you can tell, everyone in your community. Life would be pointless, you believe, without heroin. And the very idea of not having it terrifies and depresses you. Then one day you meet someone who doesn't do heroin and you're completely shocked at the fact that they don't need a daily injection of smack to provide meaning and purpose to their lives and are perfectly fine and happy without it, and living a fulfilled life.

"How does your life have any meaning without heroin?" you ask them. "What motivates you to get up and endure another day?"

"Easy," they say. "I simply wasn't raised with a dependency on heroin like you were. The reason why you feel that life has no meaning without heroin is because you were raised to think that you were. And over time it became psychologically addictive, to the point where you believe that you need it to motivate you to get through life. For me, that dependency was never created and so I have no idea what it's like to need something like heroin in order to be motivated to get out of bed and go through my day. And actually, the idea of you needing heroin to feel a sense of meaning is pretty pathetic. I mean look at yourself. Seriously."

Now, I'm not saying religion is just like heroin or is just as harmful. But there is a similarity to the way some heroin addicts become so utterly dependent on their drug and how it gives their life meaning and purpose with how some theists become so utterly dependent on their religion. Karl Marx infamously said that "religion is the opium of the people". He had a good point. The demise of religion will be to a large degree due to the realization that meaning, purpose and fulfillment in life can be achieved without god or religion. And once the cycle of religious indoctrination is broken, and religion's head is severed, saying "it's tradition" won't be a viable excuse helping to perpetuate it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Debate: Is ISIS Islamic? David Wood (Christian) vs. Osama Abdallah (Muslim)




David Wood is a Christian apologist probably best known for his criticism of Islam. He writes for the blog Answering Muslims and has debated many prominent Muslims on issues regarding Islam and Christianity. I saw one debate recently called Is ISIS Islamic? and I think Wood did a particularly good job in it. He certainly is well educated in Islamic history and theology and knows how to cut through most of the bullshit you often here coming from liberal Muslims who obfuscate their religion and its history to give you the kinder, gentler version of Islam that they want us Westerners to believe is true.

Some liberals that watch this may initially feel the urge to ignore Wood's criticisms and brush them off as the product of fundamentalist Christian "Islamophobia." Yes, Wood is a Christian, but that does not automatically render his criticism of Islam biased and false. Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz also recognize the same problems of the Islamic sources. If you are the kind that feels the need to believe Islam is a peaceful religion that has been hijacked by a small minority of extremists, please try and suspend that reaction and listen to the arguments Wood makes. And then do some research into the verses and their interpretations to see if Wood makes a convincing case that ISIS is indeed Islamic.

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